A lobbyist who helped orchestrate a mailer designed to look like an attack by Senate candidate Mike Lee on incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett's faith said Wednesday that none of the campaigns were involved in the advertisement.
"It must be stated unequivocally that neither the Lee, Bennett nor [Tim] Bridgewater campaigns had any knowledge of, or participation in this piece at any time," said Tim Stewart, who helped arrange the mailer, in a statement. "It is simply wrong for anyone to accuse any of the three candidates or their campaigns of being connected in any way to this action."
Stewart still would not identify the Utahns he says asked him to help arrange the mailer.
Stewart hired a Washington consulting company to publish the ad, which arrived in Republican delegates' mailboxes on the eve of the May 8 Utah GOP Convention. Purportedly from an unregistered group calling itself Utah Defenders of Constitutional Integrity, the ad had a photo of the LDS temple with a picture of Lee above it, contrasted with an image of the U.S. Capitol beneath Bennett's picture. The caption read "Which candidate really has Utah values?"
A third of delegates who saw the ad thought it came from the Lee campaign, and they were offended that religion would be used in such a manner, according to a post-convention poll by Brigham Young University political scientists.
Stewart told The Tribune on Monday that he wished he could take credit for the "most brilliant and possibly the biggest single game-changing political play in Utah politics in the last 20 years," but he was merely helping a group of Utahns express their opinions.
On Wednesday, he said his initial reaction was "glib."
"The piece was neither brilliant nor clever. Underhanded tactics, involvement by outside groups and whisper campaigns did not justify my actions and are certainly not an appropriate excuse to have joined in the fray," he said. "I take full responsibility for my specific role and sincerely apologize to the candidates, their campaigns and to my fellow Utahns who were offended as well."
Stewart said he was motivated to act after seeing Bennett, Stewart's former boss, being shredded by outside interest groups. Stewart had spent several years as a legislative aide for the senator.
"After witnessing and becoming appalled by vitriolic political and personal attacks on a man I hold in the highest esteem and someone who has poured his heart and soul into public service, I exercised my right to speak politically and participated in a satirical mailer that only further contributed to the toxic atmosphere," Stewart said. "I sincerely regret that."
Lee's campaign said it plans to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over the mailer.
A fundraising e-mail from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., supporting Lee suggested that Bridgewater was involved, as did a blog posting from Erick Erickson on the political website RedState.com.
The Bridgewater campaign has repeatedly said it had nothing to do with the mailing.